War has been a tough sell in Hollywood over the last decade, with a number of high profile films barely making a dent in the box-office. With the exception of Zero Dark Thirty, it seems that the general populace have all but had it with the genre and the same can be said about comic books. The war-genre, once a staple of comic shelves, hasn’t seen a successful comic-line in quite some time. While many characters are locked in battle, even giant galactic wars for years, when it comes down to it, there are few books focusing on the war at home. This is what makes Mark Sables and Paul Azaceta’s Graveyard of Empires both refreshing and ultimately disappointing.
Graveyard of Empires is an unflinching look at the hell-on-earth that is war. The focus here is on a rag-tag group of U.S. Marines who are locked in a never-ending conflict with the Taliban. From amoral Captains, to drug-addicted bomb-disposal experts and a lone-wolf scout sniper who plays by his own rules, the unit appears to be falling apart at the seams (but at least they managed to hit every war movie cliché). Then, as if a never-ending conflict in enemy occupied territory wasn’t enough, the dead start rising from the grave. Yes, it seems Graveyard of Empires is in fact a zombie book and as ludicrous as the idea seems, it’s the zombie part that saves this book from the bargain bin, while also bringing to light its glaring faults.
Some props must be given to Mark Sable in the writing department. This is a well-researched book that must have taken years to get off the ground. The historical background on the region is the most exciting aspect of the book. It’s unfortunate for Sable that he missed the most important aspect of any story; the characters. Once the book is done, and you’ve turned that last page, the simple act of naming one character turns into a daunting task. The book is littered with every character you’ve ever seen in any war movie ever. This makes the first half of the book extremely tiresome as the reader has no connection with any person on page. It’s only when the zombies start attacking that the characters do anything useful: they die gruesome deaths.
Azaceta’s art fairs better with excellent paneling and even better colouring. The intersecting panel’s that cut between the events of Afghanistan’s rich and violent past, juxtaposed between the red and blue coloured panels of present day conflict certainly help lift the story above simple zombie-filled affair. One problem, like that of the writing, is that it is hard at time to distinguish who is who. Some soldiers wear glasses, while one has a beard, while it’s easy to understand that soldiers must be uniform, its lack of any character distinction is the biggest fault in the book.
The trade does manage to pack some nice extras for fans of the series. From a previously unpublished epilogue, to concept sketches of the soldiers and cover design, there are some nice inclusions that are greatly appreciated. The extra’s help to shine some light on the creative process the book took as well as some character and locale choices made by the artist.
Graveyard of Empires Vol. 1 TP is a great concept brought down by its lack of heart. After reading the extras, specifically Sable’s thoughts, it’s a shame the book wasn’t made as historical non-fiction. There is no reason to care since the characters are so underdeveloped, and if there’s no reason to care, than there is no reason to keep reading.